The Winter Olympics are nearly upon us. I happen to subscribe to the totally square notion that the Olys remain—in spite of the gargantuan hoo-hah of stupidness that surrounds them—a Great Festival of Sporting Life, but I do dread a number of the tiresome rituals that come along with the Games. Figure skating, for example; soft-focus features on heartbreaking stories of athletic and spiritual fortitude, for another. The most irritating set-pieces of all, however, are the inevitable I Hate the Olympics treatises dusted off by disgruntled (and alleged) sports pundits every time an obscure foreign athlete of yesteryear trots by bearing a torch aloft.
Hating the Olympics is kind of like hating the Holiday Season: you can make a plausible and defensible case for doing so, and maybe this view indicates some kind of cynical, hard-bitten street cred. Peace? Joy? Santa? You can’t fool me, pal—this iron-minded American was NOT born yesterday. I mean, fine, but whatever. In many cases, the polemicists in question rail against that of which they know not. Chuck Klosterman’s contribution to the genre, written for Esquire before the Beijing Games, is a case in point. Now, considered in full, Klosterman’s piece is rather subtle and provocative. Unfortunately, before he spits out the thesis, he has to go and take swipes at a bunch of Olympic sports, most prominently fencing:
We’re all supposed to take inspiration from Sada Jacobson, who (I’m told) is the world’s number-one female saber fencer, which is kind of like being the world’s number-one Real World/ Road Rules Challenge participant.
Nice. I find it both weird and ironic that a piece that argues against thoughtless and unexamined sports fandom looks to score its cheap ha-has through thoughtless and unexamined shots at a sport. Fencing may not be a huge topic of discussion on American sports podcasts but it does, as a matter of fact, have thousands of participants and fans and a history that goes back to, oh, approximately the beginning of time. (On a personal note, I spent about six months trying to learn how to fence and failing miserably. You can read all about this misadventure, if you’re interested. Suffice it to say that the shit is hard, and anyone who takes it lightly should try it some time.)
At least Klosterman has a decent ultimate point to make. Lesser examples of the anti-Olympics line usually boil down to some version of Weird Sports Played By Foreign People Are Dumb. Where is everyone’s sense of adventure, for God’s sake? Is it really so hard to see what’s cool about speed skating, biathlon or any of the other introverted, extraterrestrial nerd-sports that ask nothing but a few minutes of our time every four years? Can any global event that features a charming, sociable, wooly-minded pursuit like curling really be all bad?
Many aspects of the Olympics are galling and silly, but those same elements also tend to be funny and entertaining in their own right. Which team will wear the most hideous Opening Ceremony outfit? Which warm-weather nation will take the most severe hiding in women’s hockey? What kind of bitchy psychodrama will skating offer up this year?
All I know is, if curling is wrong, I don’t want to be right.